Milla’s journey from obscurity to global star is almost as astonishing as Nepomnyashchy’s.
The striker had retired from the national team after the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations, but had carried on playing for Montpellier in Ligue 1 until the end of 1988/89, when he decided he had had enough of professional football.
It would be impossible for anyone in today’s game to repeat Milla’s beach-to-pitch trick, but it was astounding even 27 years ago.
It was not just Milla’s goalscoring ability that shocked even his own teammates, but his pace with the ball at feet and his physical strength.
Milla moved to Reunion, near Mauritius, where he played for an amateur team and generally ‘enjoyed’ life.
Nepomnyashchy recalls that he spoke to Milla three months before the World Cup, and was told in no uncertain terms that he was no longer a footballer.
They were triumphant in the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations under Radivoje Ognjanović and in 1988 under Claude le Roy, losing the final in 1986.
Africa may not have been a world force, but Cameroon were its best hope. Eleven of the 22 played their club football in Cameroon, and ten others in France, although only four in Ligue 1.
Nepomnyashchy was not well liked or respected until Cameroon achieved their World Cup ‘90 feats.
It is tempting for romantic reasons to believe that Cameroon’s rise came out of nowhere, but the truth is slightly different.
A team managed by Jean Vincent were only eliminated from the 1982 World Cup on goals scored after drawing all three of their group games against Poland, Italy and Peru.
The country’s media were upset at Le Roy’s exit after unsuccessful contract negotiations and wanted a French speaker in charge.
Cameroon’s poor performance at the 1990 AFCo N hardly helped.